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The Atlanta Falcons have had a busy, and by any standard, productive offseason. They have significantly improved their roster.
But, this is going to blow your mind, it could be a problem.
We’ll get to the problematic part in a few paragraphs but first the good news: Coach Arthur Smith’s team was 7-10 a season ago and never really relevant in any postseason conversation the final two months of the season.
Falcons Add Multiple New Starters
But this offseason the Falcons have simply gone off with a roster rebuild that saw them sign 10 players who were on other teams last year, including starters such as safety Jessie Bates III, defensive lineman David Onyemata, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, receiver Mack Hollins, and linebacker Kaden Ellis.
The Falcons also upgraded their depth with backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, tight end Jonnu Smith and a trade for cornerback Jeff Okudah.
So the Falcons should be better than they were last season, especially in the NFC South that no longer includes Tom Brady playing for Tampa Bay and a rookie quarterback likely playing for the Carolina Panthers at least some next season.
None of this addresses the chances the Falcons will upgrade further in the draft because they have the No. 8 and No. 44 picks overall the first two rounds.
So, as they say in Atlanta, let’s go to The Varsity!
As they say in Atlanta, Rise Up!
Desmond Ridder Is Falcons Starting QB
But here’s where the issue comes, in the much-anticipated rise of the Falcons this coming season: Maybe they have a good quarterback. And maybe they don’t.
And they don’t seem much worried either way.
The Falcons starting quarterback for 2023 is second-year veteran Desmond Ridder.
“The plan is obviously to start Desmond,” Smith said at the NFL annual meeting two weeks ago. “That’s our plan going forward right now.”
And that plan comes with the hope Ridder is going to be great. But that plan comes with a potential giant flaw that he might not even be good.
No one can say with any certainty which way Ridder is going to go.
The Falcons think he’ll be good. And they should know because Ridder’s been in their building since being drafted in the third round last April. Ridder also started four games for the team and was fine, in helping the club go 2-2 in those starts.
But no one really knows if Desmond Ridder is it. Not even the Falcons.
Falcons Have One Chance To Get It Right
And Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot currently don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room to work with beyond this year if Ridder isn’t the right guy.
There’s the problem.
The Falcons, you see, have improved to such a degree this offseason at positions other than the quarterback spot that they’re likely a middle of the pack team even if Ridder struggles. They could easily improve to, say, 9-8, with Ridder growing and learning.
But if Ridder’s ceiling isn’t much, much higher than that of a developing player, being a .500ish team is about as good as the Falcons can expect to get.
And the terrible issue with being good but not great is that those teams typically cannot draft high enough to pick from among the best quarterback prospects in the draft.
So the Falcons need Ridder to be close to elite for them to be a perennial playoff team or better. And if he isn’t, they’re going to struggle to be much more than perennially mediocre.
Why? Because good is the enemy of great.
The Formula For Falcons Being Great
Great teams often get that way by struggling for a while. Either that or they get lucky like the Patriots once did with Tom Brady, the Saints did by landing Drew Brees in free agency, or the Broncos did with Peyton Manning.
Usually, teams bleed a bit to get good. The Colts did in landing Andrew Luck. The Bengals did so they could pick Joe Burrow. The Bills took a two decade vacation from the playoffs before finding Josh Allen.
These teams were bad enough to get high enough picks to pick stars.
And please understand what this is about. It’s about becoming a championship contender. That’s the goal.
The goal is not improving enough to get just over .500.
So what can the Falcons do to make that leap?
Well, it is not too late.
Falcons Seemingly Not Searching For Star QB
One supposes they could find a quarterback in the draft that has the magic to lead them to titles if Ridder cannot. Owning the No. 8 pick overall is not going to get the Falcons either of the top two picks in the draft in Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
But it might get them to the No. 3 pick overall if they package future picks and that gets them a chance at Will Levis or Anthony Richardson if Fontenot and Smith think either is going to be amazing.
Except very few people believe this is going to happen. It’s unlikely and most draft gurus such as ESPN’s Mel Kiper believe the Falcons are in build-around-Ridder mode.
So Kiper has the Falcons selecting University of Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith. Kiper thinks the Falcons are looking to create pressure on quarterbacks rather than find a quarterback.
“I went with the linebacker, basically a pass rusher,” Kiper said of his selection to the Falcons. “He can get you 8 to 10 sacks a year. He’s a heck of a player. Very smart. He ran in the 4.3, 4.38 range so that tells you what kind of athlete he is.
“At that particular point you think, how can you take to fill a need area? He gives you a pass rusher which is what they were lacking.”
Are Falcons Adding More To The Defense?
Kiper also mentioned the Falcons adding receiver Jalin Hyatt or Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo after the first round.
The Lions, Saints, Buccaneers, Giants, Titans and Raiders have hosted Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker on official visits but no word about the Falcons doing so. The Colts considered the idea of a Lamar Jackson trade and have seemingly passed.
But the Falcons have shown zero interest in a Jackson trade.
So the Falcons are seemingly set on their direction.
But if Desmond Ridder doesn’t become amazingly good, what they’re set for is a lot of .500 football for a long time.